10ft polar bear amongst activists walking to COP26

Green World spoke to the activists and Greens walking to COP26, some travelling as much as 1200 miles on foot to reach the summit in Glasgow. The walkers include a 10ft polar bear called ‘Clarion’, a sculpture being carried as a symbol of climate change.

Bamber and Clarion

Credit: Bamber Hawes

Green World

With COP26 beginning in just over a week (31 October), activists across the country, and the continent, are making journeys of up to 1200 miles on foot to reach the summit. 

Amongst the walkers is a 10ft polar bear named ‘Clarion’; a sculpture made of bamboo poles, willow, plywood, and tissue paper, constructed by designer and artist Bamber Hawes. The 17kg structure is being carried just over 300 miles to COP26, accompanied by members of the public, who have been invited to join the demonstration, even for a few hours, to help get the bear to the summit together.

Green World spoke to Bamber Hawes about his journey and his hopes for the summit, as well as other activists and Greens making similar journeys, including Walk2COP26, Camino to COP, the Young Christian Climate Network (YCCN), local party member Chris Copeman, and Green Councillor Nicole Griffiths.

Bamber Hawes, artist and designer

“I made the bear, then I thought about doing a pilgrimage – I want to show my sincerity about love for the earth, and I can't think of a better way to do that. This pilgrimage is for the people doing it. I'm not raising money, I'm not having banners or anything. It's not an Extinction Rebellion thing. It is people coming together for a day, walking and talking, and enjoying the camaraderie of it, the gradients, and all the rest of it. And it seems it's becoming a bit of a thing!

“I think I kind of feel an urge to do it. It feels like most people are getting it. We've only had very few people winding down their windows and abusing us, very very few. 99 per cent of people seem to think it's a good thing, even if we've been holding them up a bit on roads, you know, they've had to wait a minute or two but when they drive past they're waving and honking, and everything. I think people get it, because it is a pretty obvious symbol – a polar bear walking through the English countryside. A polar bear is a sort of poster boy for climate change. You know, it's an obvious analogy, and seeing him in the English countryside is just a wonderful image. And people get it. It's great.

“I'm very, very pessimistic about COP26. In fact, the other night when I was awake at four o'clock in the morning, I started writing a speech that I could give to COP. If someone asked me to give a speech, it will be to say, I know that you leaders are important people, and I also know that you're worried about getting elected next time and popularity back home, but you have to do the right thing. 

“You have to be brave, you must do something which very few politicians have to do – we're asking you to disappoint your people and say to them, you can't be taking air flights all over the world, we need to change our ways and buckle down for the next 10 years, to transform the way we do things. I understand that is a very very difficult thing to do, but if you don't do it, future people will be cursing you because this is the last chance. 

“We've got to do something this time, we can't keep on putting it off year after year. We have got to get on with it. And any agreements made this time, they need to be kept. None of this lying and cheating, and messing with statistics. You know, if you say you're going to do something, bloody well do it.”

Chris Copeman, member of the Weaver Vale Green Party

“I arrived home from work to find a large object under a tarpaulin in the front garden and a man called Bamber in the kitchen. Bamber had walked across Cheshire that day with Clarion, his 10ft polar bear, made largely from willow and PVA treated tissue paper, on a 306-mile pilgrimage on foot to COP26. He was looking a bit concerned at the lack of pilgrims for the next day. A bike trailer had been skillfully converted using aluminium poles and tension wires so that he could haul Clarion in repose single-handled, in the style of a Polar explorer, but Clarion looked far more majestic being carried upright by four pole bearers. 

“The next day was also going to be a tricky navigational one, through two built up large towns separated by the Jubilee Bridge across the Mersey. I decided to go into work late the next day to help but needn't have worried, as by 10 am a collection of Green Party, XR and local Transition group members were ready for action in the front garden. Clarion emerged from his Tarpaulin den and was bolted to his platform with poles attached. He made an impressive sight towering over us, incredibly only six inches taller than the real thing. Children in local schools en route were ready waiting for him to pass and he was met with great excitement and adulation as we strode past. 

“Travelling north, traffic was controlled with very professional polar bear warning signs on poles and we managed to negotiate a plethora of hazards including trees, underpasses and dual carriageways to reach the Jubilee suspension bridge, the lowest point at which you can cross the Mersey Estuary. We passed over in style, but had to resort to towing Clarion on his back through the next town. Bamber and Clarion had nowhere to stay that night and as it was now getting late an offer of a bed for the night and a spot for Clarion amongst a front garden Halloween display was quickly accepted. 

“They still had a long way to go, but Bamber's single-minded determination left me in no doubt that he would get to Glasgow with Clarion. A background in film set design and furniture making had enabled him to create this incredible mobile sculpture intended as a Clarion call to us all to act on the Climate Emergency, and demand our Government does too. Everyone meeting them along the route must surely be inspired to consider their part in helping to avert this grave situation the planet and living world faces. I know I was.”

Walk2COP26

Walk2COP26 are walking 500 miles from London to Glasgow to highlight the power and potential of local climate change action at COP26 and beyond. Throughout their 26-day journey, the walkers are having 500 conversations with people along the way, running eight inclusive events and visiting 200 high-impact, low-carbon initiatives from around the UK.

Laudie Jamous

“The involvement of and leadership by businesses everywhere, big and small, is really important in creating and implementing the solutions we need if we are to keep the global temperature rise below 1.5C. Business innovation is not simply something that is nice to have, it is essential. And it can take many different forms, from reducing the ecological footprint of supply chains to reducing energy consumption to creating circular economies to driving carbon removal schemes. 

“During the walk and through every step from London to Glasgow, I hope to engage with citizens and businesses to encourage collaborations and shed light on the emergency of tackling climate change.”

Sam Baker

“I am walking in the hope that we help catalyse action against climate change by promoting great examples, connecting people, and educating ourselves. It’s a critical moment, I want to contribute more, I don’t want to be a bystander. Governments and businesses act if they think people care. Let’s show we care.”

Natasha Fortuin

As we transition to a low-carbon world everyone will be affected, and it is our responsibility to ensure all opinions are considered. I’m walking to COP26 to raise awareness about the critical role that everyday people have and their innovative and collaborative ideas to respond to the emergency.”

Steven Haasz

“I am walking to show my commitment to action on climate change. The changes we need to make are simple – consume less, waste less – and we can all start now. So why aren’t we?”

Ric Casale

“I’m walking to COP26 to highlight the importance and impact of working together on local climate action. I hope COP26 will empower more communities to change the world around them for the better.”

Hung Nguyen

“Walking hundreds of miles is a way to show there’s another way to travel and to live our lives in general.’

Nicole Griffiths, Green Councillor for St Leonard’s ward

Cllr Nicole Griffiths, who was part of the team that got Lambeth to become the first London borough to declare a climate emergency, is walking 140 miles to the summit alongside Walk2COP26.

“I am proud and excited to be part of this campaign highlighting the urgency that we need to see from local & national governments to act, and to have the opportunity to speak to people along the way.

“We know that the climate emergency is one of the main concerns for everyone across the UK. By holding events and visiting green initiatives, the walkers are drawing attention to both the urgency of the climate emergency and to ways of addressing some of the issues it raises”.

Camino to COP

Initiated by XRUK Faith Bridge, Camino to COP is walking from London to Glasgow, aiming to build alliances and engage communities along the route, and to spread the word about the urgency of the need for meaningful action to address the climate crisis.

Iszi Jones

“Walking the Camino, I'm putting my physical self in direct connection with the land, and with as many people as possible, to make a statement: I'm part of a global ecosystem in crisis, and the urgency of the situation requires me to do something out of the ordinary.

“We're walking for Climate Justice. When you're aware of suffering, it's soul-destroying to feel that you can't do anything. I'm expressing solidarity with the people and other life-forms who are most affected by the ecological breakdown. It's me trying to say, I hear you. I may not have much power on my own, but I'll add my voice to others. And at least I didn't just sit at home and condone the destruction.

“Stepping outside my normal comfort zone feels like an appropriate reaction to the crisis. And we've had so much support: people are grasping the opportunity to show that they care.

“The pilgrimage is also about asking for help: I hope that the decision-makers can respond appropriately, but even if they don't, it's important that we did ask. The act of walking to COP is an embodiment of our collective need to be heard.”

Andrew James

“I walk with Camino to COP because I grieve for the earth, I want a future where my grandchildren can enjoy the rich diversity of our amazing planet. The UN Secretary-General has described the recent Inter-governmental Report on Climate Change (IPCC) as a ‘Code Red’ for humanity. UNICEF identified that one billion children live in the 33 most affected regions. 

“We all have personal responsibility for CO2 emissions but are caught in a system that places the notion of individual freedom above community interests, and hungers for us to consume more stuff, and then yet more stuff again, at a cost that places no value on environmental impact.

“A common behaviour trait in the face of an overwhelming crisis is a proverbial shrug of the shoulders and a ‘Hey, what can you do? Live for the present’. Well, I can’t. We can’t. We can’t keep calm and carry on. How dare we sing ‘Our God is Great’, ‘ All Things Bright and Beautiful’, while we trash creation, while lives are being devastated right now?

“If we are to reach net-zero carbon by 2030, we need to reduce CO2 emissions by 45 per cent. COP26 is the last chance for the global community to pull a handbrake turn. I walk as the pilgrims of old as an act of prayer, of worship and of penitence for all the damage we have done to the ecology of the planet. We are looking for the same penitence from our prime minister.”

Ruth Walters, member of YCCN

Members of the YCCN are completing a 1200-mile walk from Cornwall to the summit in Glasgow, calling on the Government to reinstate the foreign aid budget to pre-Covid levels; secure agreement from wealthy countries to significantly increase climate finance; ensure finance for climate-induced loss and damage, and push for debt cancellation for climate-vulnerable nations.

“I’m walking to COP26 because I believe the climate crisis is both a reflection and a cause of injustice in the world, and those who do the least to cause it often suffer the most because of it. I’m walking because I want to see systematic change on a global and a local scale; I want the UK government to provide fair climate finance at COP26, but I also want the UK church to be engaged in the issue of climate justice and to use its voice to call for more action. 

“I am walking as an act of faith, hope and love: faith that our actions will be listened to and can create change; hope that it isn’t too late, we can stop climate change; and love for our planet and one another. In years to come, I want the UK church and government to look back on 2021 and say: ‘We did not sit at home while unjust decisions were made on our doorstep, we set sail towards a just future.’”